A Game Of Clues


My family LOVES hidden object games. We’ve got PC games and iPad games. I’ve got several cool hidden object books on my shelf. And for Christmas, my wife is getting a hidden object jigsaw puzzle.

While I don’t use hidden object games as session props (though if I did, I’d make the PCs quest for a handful of specific objects to find, then those objects would become a pictogram they’d then need to sort and solve for the final reveal), it got me to thinking about Explorer Player Types.

In my Wizard of Story program, I go over the major player types and what we can do to make sessions epic for each. The Explorers like to make discoveries.

For example, clues are definitely in their wheelhouse. Explorers go bonkers when there’s fun secrets about.

So how do we keep the clue training rolling if we have an Explorer in our gaming group? Because there are only so many Plot Points we can hint and drop into scenes.

In addition, if every clue relates to your Plotline, that gets a bit tiring over time. Some players can’t help but start meta gaming. They sometimes must even stop themselves from doing so because your patterns become so predictable.

Therefore, let’s add clues about other things and treat encounters like hidden object games!

Three of the top fun things we can serve up to be discovered are:

  • Traps
  • Foes
  • Treasure

Instead of focusing on the story all the time and causing fatigue on that front, we can instead drop discoveries into encounters that relate to these more urgent things.

This turns your encounters into cool puzzles. And if you can drop into play more encounters that hold great puzzles where players must collect the clues to get a revelation, suddenly our Explorers are 100% engaged and chomping to drive the game forward, making the pace faster and the other players racing to keep up.

Let’s take foes, for example. We’ll use the 3 Clue Rule, which means we need to prep or improvise three clues.

Step 1. Begin at the End

We always start with the solution. The solution in this case is for the party to discover what type of foe lurks ahead and glean valuable intel about them, so they can plan and prepare the most effective attack, trick, or evasion.

Let’s say we have a Dusk Zombie in the area. In my homebrew world of Duskfall, Dusk Zombies become more powerful as the sun sets. For example, they gain a Twilight Touch that drains victims of their “light” or life essence. They can also emit a Dusk Howl that extinguishes all light sources in the area. And they grow Dusk Thorns that can be fired at foes, causing piercing damage and a Slow condition.

Step 2. Create a Clues “Menu”

Our second step is to brainstorm clues.

d12 brainstorming, we get:

  • Drained corpses (darkened husks, no signs of physical wounds)
  • Drained vermin, birds, and other animals (not just people corpses)
  • Screams or howls in the distance
  • Strange dun-hued thorns stuck in walls, doors, and objects
  • A victim with cause of death: strange thorns
  • Shadowy footprints that become visible in late afternoons
  • Light sources behave strangely
  • Chilled ground, maybe event frost, in warm areas
  • A victim, half-drained, shivering and babbling
  • An animal, half-drained, strange dark spots on their body
  • An animal or victim moving and acting strangely slooooow
  • Eerie silence because all creatures have been drained and slain

Step 3. Drop Clues Into Encounters

Finally, choosing or rolling from our d12 list, we stage or plant three clues in our encounter or scene for discovery that, if players can put together the pieces, the presence of a Dusk Zombie — and some of its dangerous powers — are revealed.

I prefer to improvise most encounters. So what I actually do is put my d12 clues into my Campaign Logger’s ~”Dusk Zombie” page. Then, when such a creature enters play, I grab clues from the list based on the current situation and hide them in the encounter.

Click here to see full-sized image

Discoveries Make Sessions Fun

Incorporating these hidden object-style clues into your sessions does more than just engage the Explorers in your group. It also adds layers of depth and interactivity to your encounters.

By diversifying the types of clues so players can make discoveries about traps, foes, and treasure, you keep your encounter fresh, dynamic, and interesting. This not only prevents meta-gaming but also keeps engagement levels high.

When clues lead to revelations, your encounters also become important puzzles and mysteries that beg exploration. You encourage players to think critically, explore and analyze their surroundings, and collaborate to piece together information.

Try it out right now:

  • Start with the solution (a foe, trap, or treasure)
  • Brainstorm 3+ clues and signposts
  • Hide your clues in an encounter

Let me know how it goes and if you have any questions about this.

Have more fun at every game!

P.S. If you’d like more details about the Wizard of Story program to learn about Player Types and how to make your campaigns and adventures appeal to each, click here for details.

And if you’d like to use Campaign Logger to start building your own monster guides and clue lore, click here for a free lifetime account.

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